tv Dateline NBC NBC April 19, 2010 3:05am-4:00am EDT
something wrong with him. >> but, first, she'd have to explain that nasty past. >> there was something demonic about her even as a child. >> he said, i'll see you in court and she said, i'll see you dead. >>ville lane? >> this person is very, very dangerous. >> or perhaps an innocent victim? >> he did a very good job of making it look like i killed him rather than him killing himself. >> who was the doctor's wife? >> good evening and welcome to "dateline," i'm ann curry. tonight's story starts with the divorce doctor calling a dating service. but his date wasn't quite what it appeared to be and soon police would be saying the same thing about his death.
>> reporter: maybe there are some people that should just come with warning labels. >> this is a woman that spent her life playing the damsel in distress and for the most part was able to dupe every man that came across her path. >> reporter: but, then, so few of the fine men bothered to read the fine print to their parl. >> i'm frightened of her. >> reporter: why even her baby sister agreed with the people that called her that nasty name, black widow. she had gotten tangled in the web herself. >> she was just so obsessed with murders. she was practicing. her whole life was practice for the grand finale. >> reporter: you'll just have to decide for yourself, the pretty doctor's wife, the fine things in life or was she really
something snels. >> there was something phony about her. the name was certainly embellished. she was born della. after a shot rank out in the middle of the night in a nice house in a cincinnati suburb. that's where dr. gerald, her husband of 11 months, laid dead. to an officer, it looked like a suicide by an overworked, over stressed, over weight surgeon. >> there was a gunshot wound to the head, a gun laying on the floor. he was laying on the couch. >> reporter: how had the doctor reach such a disspare? the family gathered to bury him. the doctor had been a successful cincinnati heart surgeon, the father of four. but he was also a lonely man who struggled with depression after
the breakup of his marriage of 30 years. >> you know i have will always love you. >> reporter: deborah, the doctor's oldest child, remembers what a drifter her father seemed to be in the last years. she found herself comforting him as though he had become the child and she the parent. >> did you see him becoming depressed? >> yeah. i remember sitting once down at the table in his new place and he was crying. and he was just -- what have i done? what did i lose? >> reporter: darryl had not initiated the breakup. but the trauma sent him adrift. he wrestled with life as a single man in his early 50s. he delegated great expectations to find a woman to be his companion. >> dad wasn't looking for another love of his life, i
don't think. he was just looking for someone that would go out to dinner with him and keep him company and go on his boat, enjoy the theater and, you know, the nicer things in life that he enjoyed, he wanted someone to share it with. >> someone else was looking for -- >> he looked nice. he looked kind and our interests were similar. he liked the theater. >> darryl and dante met in october 1994 and by following january. >> he spent his time with her. he was so scared of being alone. >> reporter: they honeymooned at hilton head but in the bedroom, there were problems from the start. >> the first night we were there he told me he was going to sleep
downstairs. he just kind of tucked me in bed and left. >> reporter: he was i am potent and needed an injection ze told me he didn't think i would marry him. i wish he would have told me. i would have married him any way because he loved me. >> reporter: a rocky start for dante. they set themselves up in building a dream house. >> he loved me. everything was terrific. he paid a lot of attention to me. he pampered me. >> reporter: but darryl, even making $300,000 a year, was stretched from paying the bills from his first family. $5,000 a month to his first wife, college tuition, and now all of the costs associated with
setting up a new household. he constantly complained about the mushrooming financial problems. >> he never told me anything about the finances. >> reporter: darryl's stress showed up in the hospital where his always stern professional manner, one that he had been rebuked for by his hospital board had been constant -- >> he was insulting, mean, didn't care if there was a roomful of people listening. he would yell at the nurses and insult them and tell them that they are stupid, that their incompetent. >> reporter: the younger surgeons were in a typhoon. >> we're not talking about passing moods here, huh? >> no. >> was that the time that you approached him and said i think we need to talk about therapy here? >> i would tell him that from
the beginning. he cried very easily. right then i knew, i knew there was something wrong with him. >> reporter: dante played a tough hand. she would give him the silent treatment until he acknowledged the desperation of his emotional state. >> he hated with a passion to be alone and i would go, as soon as he came home, i wouldn't say anything. i would go to my room. there was no other way for him to see a psychiatrist and he definitely needed to see someone. >> reporter: he finally agreed to see dr. darryl spitz to talk about the extreme grief about the breakup caused by his first marriage. >> the psychiatrist, darryl saying that he considered suicide? >> right. >> after the unhappy divorce with his first wife? >> right. >> he began taking antidepressant medication. >> he's clinically depressed, taking medication for it, showing abusive anger with his
colleagues -- >> right. and me. >> drinking too much? >> way too much. >> humiliated by impotence? >> right. >> unhappy relationship with the family? >> right. >> it's a bundle of problems for one guy to carry. >> right. >> on a sunday morning, a shock rank out. darryl was on the couch, a glass of wine on the table before him and a handgun by his slumped body. calls wint out to the family. deborah's fiancee answered the phone. >> my heart started pounding and i was going to leave. i didn't know where i was going. i just stopped and said, she killed him. >> reporter: could darryl's daughter be right? according to her sister, clearly not someone you'd want to cross. >> very vindictive and spiteful. that was like bingo.
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disposition. >> there was something demonic about her. >> reporter: a book was written about her. >> when she changed her name to dante, it was in order to create a sophisticated person in her mind of who she was going to be. >> reporter: determined to escape her western ohio roots, even though her sister remembers a devoted mother taking care of her seven children. >> we had beautiful clothes. my mother starts the pillow cases and the sheets. she took care of everything. >> so this is a very 1950s family? >> yes. everything was normal except della.
>> reporter: she was a force to be reckoned with. >> everything could be fine but she would switch on you. >> reporter: donna says that even though her pretty sister fancied herself a dimple-child like shirley temple, she could be absolutely terrifying. >> she used to do weird things. she used to threaten. >> reporter: and while childhood memories can be fuz zee, she remembers threats involving files and scissors dangled over her mother's neck while she slept. >> she stood over my mother with the sisters back here and said, if you don't do everything i say, i'm going to kill her. all i have to do is stick those scissors in her neck and she's dead. >> reporter: donna says she endured years of torment at her sister's hand. she would taunt her with the idea of killing her baby
brother. >> she was obsessed with killing. she threatened to kill the baby and snap his neck if i didn't clean up the room. >> reporter: but the sister found there was no reason on telling on della. her mother didn't have the stomach to verify such stories. >> she would listen sometimes and she would look at della and she was a shirley temple girl. >> are you the only one that knows that she's a disturbed child? >> no, everybody knows that she's disturbed but not to what depth. >> she ended up dropping out, never graduating high school, but she did pick up useful tips, things that would serve her well later on in life. >> she did utilize that later on in portraying herself as a
sophisticated lady. >> reporter: she never had a problem finding a date. at age 19 she ended up getting pregnant. she married the baby's father and would be a long line of men to face her cruelty. >> this was a woman who abused and literally was accountable for terrorizing men in her life. >> reporter: in the divorce that followed, there was a bitter custody fight and in the end the little girl went to live with her father. >> dell la is not a mother. she had a baby but she's not a mother. >> reporter: but she did become a wife again. >> these are early people in her life. she a young, pretty thing. and, in essence, they want to start out a life with somebody. there's not a sense of who are you, what is your path? so it was easy to dupe these people and not have a lot of
explaining to do. she was good at saying, look, i'm a prize and you are the king of the universe. >> reporter: but marriage number two soon cratered as well. after the divorce, she had a string of boyfriends but none of those relationships ended well either. >> everyone had a bad time with dante. she could not be satisfied no matter what you did for her. >> one former boyfriend was behind a mysterious fire who partially destroyed his house. >> the movie, the burning big came out. she was just enthralled. she's very vin deck tif and spiteful. bingo, if a man does me wrong i get to burn him up in his sleep. >> reporter: after an argument a boyfriend was convinced that she set his bed on fire. she was nowhere to be found. and he for gave her. >> i don't get it. he doesn't double lock the door,
get the car keys and get out of there? >> because she was adept at insisting it couldn't have been her. something happened but it wasn't her. >> reporter: but there came a point when she realized she needed a change of scene, somewhere to start fresh, somewhere that they would appreciate her blond, good looks, somewhere like hollywood. >> underneath i knew what was going on. your sister is coming to visit. it's like, oh, great she was the devil. >> and she wasn't. she was dante to every man she met. >> i found a man in my life and then the next night another guy was in her life.
>> it surgeon turned into months. >> she did nothing. >> she's not divvying up the households? >> not doing a thing. >> reporter: while she stayed on in california, she eventually headed back home to cincinnati and into the arms of grant, who would become husband number three. >> she was from l.a. but didn't flaunt it. she had done the life in l.a. but did that
introduced himself. >> those first weeks, did you find yourself falling for her? >> oh, yes. absolutely. >> did she ever tell you story about previous boyfriends, older boyfriends? >> no, she never did. she said she dated certain guys in california some guys in california, not certain. certain about them. >> the woman without a past was quickly becoming grant's future. grant last landed a few jobs in dallas. >> what will i do when you're gone? as luck has it, i meet a goi and now he has to move. i just -- without even thinking, said, why don't you come along -- >> you must have been happy with her? >> oh, absolutely happy. sure. >> but they had only been together in dallas for a few days when he found the sign of trouble. he came home from work to say that one of the colleagues helped her find a job. >> she went ballistic.
the first time. >> who do you think you are, moving my life around, telling me what i'm going to do and not going to do. stop off, find some room, slam some door. >> this is a flip a switch moment? >> oh, yeah. >> the party girl that he met in a bar was. >> you're telling me that this woman that you've taken to dal slas not at all like the woman that you met in cincinnati? >> that's correct. the way she got upset with displays that she put on, threats that she made were getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. >> reporter: and, grant says, more dangerous. he was finding he had no idea
what would light dante's fuse. while he tried to keep her happy by taking her shopping at the dallas malls, she was never satisfied with what she bought. >> i was coming home with her this one night, and she was drinking a coke, bottle of coke. i'm going down the highway. and i said, dante, why do you always take stuff back? wrong thing to say. the car went quiet. the bottle was in a plastic bag, and she started whaling me with it going 65 miles an hour down the highway. >> reporter: she's whacking you with a bottle? >> yeah. >> reporter: so this isn't a goofing around kind of thing? >> no. >> reporter: that was just the beginning. a few weeks later grant was watching television when dante name dropped that she knew norman lear, the famous television producer from her hollywood days. >> all of a sudden she just lights up and says, you know, you don't believe me that thing about mr. lear, but that's absolutely true. you're just a jerk and a dummy. and she starts whacking me. so i said, okay. count to ten. 911. >> reporter: you're calling the cops on her? >> knock, knock, knock at the door. there's two of dallas's finest standing at the door. one takes me outside to talk to me. the other one stays inside. the door opens and the policeman inside says, can you come in here, mr. bassett?
can you put your cigarette out? you're under arrest. i get arrested. i go to jail. >> reporter: you went to jail? >> oh, yeah. >> reporter: she accused you of what? >> beating her up. what she had done was, i had seen her do it once. she was beating her arm against the crevice on a corner of the apartment. >> reporter: giving herself bruises? >> exactly. she plays you like a fiddle. she had that cop totally wrapped around her finger. >> reporter: grant got himself out of jail. but did he put dante in his rearview mirror? he did not. he went right back home where dante announced that she had some news. >> bingo. i'm pregnant. oh, boy. you go a couple days with that. what do you think about getting
married? sure, do the right thing. da, da, da, da, da. we get married. okay. >> reporter: ceremony? >> ceremony, justice of peace, police station, same place i got locked up. >> reporter: but almost as soon as they were married, dante told him she had lost the baby. >> i was the guy that figured, do the right thing, and blah, blah, blah, the puppy dog, whatever you want to call. >> reporter: but it's your belief she was lying when she said she was pregnant? >> oh, yeah. >> reporter: not a great start for annuallyweds. and dante hocked her wedding ring. then he says she had an affair with her plastic surgeon. >> i had all intentions of letting this guy have it. and the funny thing happened. when he got on the phone, i said, be careful. watch out. you're dealing with a rocket ship. >> reporter: take it from a guy who knows, huh? >> i thought, gee, i wish somebody would have done that for me. i wouldn't be in this pickle barrel.
>> reporter: but in it he was, in deep. dante's behavior, he says, kept getting more and more bizarre. after falling asleep on the couch one night, he says he woke to find dante staring at him. >> and she said, why don't you put a towel under your head? you're going to drool all over that couch and ruin it. you jerk. turns around and walks away. i rolled over. my hand hit the floor. hit the newspaper. the newspaper was lumpy. under it was a 12-inch knife. >> reporter: and there she is looking all blair witch, huh? >> woke up the next morning, and on the floor, another eight-inch knife. so i'm finding knives around the house. now i'm in big trouble. >> reporter: you've got to get your car keys and get out of there. how come you don't? >> at this point in time i know that this lady will light up over anything. she'll go nuts. there is a meanness that is unbelievable. >> reporter: grant says dante
was mean just for the sporting. >> one night i had said, you know, i'm going to clean the kitchen floor. she went in there, and in four different sessions, emptied liters of bottles of pop on the floor. just poured it. maybe a half a bottle. went back in. you could hear her giggling. >> reporter: but more chilling than the tantrums, he says, were the threats. >> some of the most famous quotes are, you know, i could murder you. and there is not a thing anybody would do. the world would be a much better place without you, as a matter of fact. >> reporter: this is not said in a joking way. >> no. but beyond that, if it went that far and i were to get arrested, i could play a judge like a fiddle. i could play a jury. if it even had come to that. because i'd work the cops first. >> reporter: grant believed she could pull it off. she'd put him in jail once.
he'd seen the knives on the floor while he slept. he started to spin an escape plan. >> i was going to leave now the dallas office and go to the washington office. that's how bad it had gotten. >> reporter: how about calling a divorce lawyer? >> no. that was not in mind. that was not in my why not? >> i just wanted to get space and think it through. she got my attention. scared the living hell out of me. very, very, very scary person. >> reporter: grant went to washington for the interview for the new job. when he returned, dante, his furniture and most of his personal belongings, he says, were nowhere to be found. >> she had emptied the bank account. >> reporter: grant, happy to escape with his life, put whatever she had left behind in his car and tried not to look back. but he didn't think that dante was done with men or marriage. >> this was not her crescendo. no way. huh-uh. no. 3q
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>> reporter: that was his first mistake. >> she was relentless. really, honestly a fatal attraction. >> reporter: when "the doctor's wife" continues. she was relentless. really, honestly, a fatal attraction. >> reporter: a woman on a mission with no time to spare. the soon-to-be former dante bassett was headed back home to cincinnati. she needed a new man fast. out came the war paint. >> one thing she was good at was making herself look good. hairpieces, false eyelashes, false nails. it was like she glued herself together. when it came to her looks, that was paramount. >> reporter: and before long, there was a husband number four. a british-born computer specialist. once again, according to his account, the same pattern started all over again. the blowout fights. the cops on speed dial. the zero-balance bank account. the threats to kill him. until husband number four had
had enough. >> it's almost a system by now. anyone that she had an actual wedding with, she looted completely. >> reporter: but the dante playbook was starting to fray. she was in her early 40s. she didn't have a job. and the meager payouts from her former husbands were all but gone. >> oddly enough, it wasn't until she met darrell sitorius that she actually hit or struck gold. this was her lottery ticket. this was her ticket out of the low life and into the high life. >> reporter: and husband number five, darrell sitorius, was going to give her that high life. the beautiful home in the trendy neighborhood, the jaguar, the lexus, the clothes, the vacations. the woman he met at the dating service was the girl of his dreams. >> he bought the package, and the package was, a beautiful woman. been married before. living off of her past husbands alimony, have a companion and go off into the sunset with. he was the package. he was completely smitten by her. >> reporter: and dante was taken by her doctor. asked her just as we did when we
interviewed her in 1998. when you hear dante tell the story of her life as you're about to, the story of the husbands, the explosive fights with boyfriends, the drama, she'll implore you not to believe anyone but her. as she tells it, she's no different than a lot of women. she's just had lousy luck in love. multiple husbands, lots of boyfriends, but no one to call her soulmate. >> a whole lot of bad luck. a lot of bad judgment on my part. i mean, a whole lot of bad choices. >> reporter: and dante blames her poor choices on her mother. she wasn't the family tormenter, as her sister donna would have it. donna, she says, can't be believed, as she was once in a mental health facility. donna says it was a brief stay after the death of one of her children from a sudden illness.
in any case, although her mother has denied any abuse whatsoever, della says she left her with lasting emotional scars. >> i wanted someone to make up, someone to love me enough to make up for all the hatred, my mother, you know. all that that i had the first 20 years of my life, i wanted someone to make up for that. no man can do that. >> reporter: when your own mother and your own sisters say this woman is very bad news, a dangerous, manipulative woman, what do we make of that? >> donna i can forgive. donna can't help what she says or does. but my mother, i would have expected nothing less from my mother. >> reporter: and she says the men in her life, former husbands and boyfriends, often with her mother's behind-the-scenes pot stirring. what do we make of that?
getting into men's lives quickly, getting the money that she could and then -- >> none of them had money. >> reporter: but taken together, they tell these stories about you with knives, threatening them with guns. >> the husbands said that about the knives. he came home early and i wasn't ready. i had been up doing boxes. that's all that was. i shoved everything underneath the sofa. >> reporter: but what about the boyfriend who said she tried to set him on fire with a kerosene lamp he kept next to his bed? did you try and burn him in his bed? >> no. he simply knocked it over. >> reporter: and then there was the boyfriend whose house caught fire. could it have been her? >> when he couldn't figure out anything else that had happened, he said, i paid someone to do it. and some friends of mine owned a few nightclubs. he said they're in the mafia. where would i get money to pay anyone? i don't have any money. good for nothing men. but break-up of husband number four had unexpectedly taken the
stuffing out of her. >> usually i was the one doing the leaving. i went due a depression. i didn't do anything for about six weeks. i stayed on the sofa and cried a lot. then i joined friends of the arts and someone talked me into a dating service. >> reporter: you had four failed relationships. why not take a period for yourself? >> i always thought somewhere out there someone was going to love me. i just hadn't found him yet. >> reporter: and she just had to find him. she knew she didn't need a matchmaking service. but after 20 years of mr. wrong, maybe she thought it was time to change approach. dante went to the dating service great expectations. >> you go in, you look through the books, the files. and you read all about them, what their interests are, and see if you're compatible. on the other side are their photos. i was looking through it one day. and one of the people going through it said dante. i've got a man for you. i've got -- and then she kind of said the magic word. she said, he would love you. she said, he will really love you. >> reporter: bingo, a doctor, even. their first date was at the bankers club. >> our interests, you know, were similar. he liked the theater. >> reporter: and he was a successful surgeon. >> right. >> reporter: good position in society. >> so obviously he was intelligent. >> reporter: respected member of the community and making good money. >> i tend to go for the
intellectual type. he obviously was. >> reporter: it wasn't fireworks, but then dante was looking for something more >> reporter: it wasn't fireworks, but then dante was looking for something more secure, morsteady this time. >> he paid a lot of attention to me. he was very well-mannered. he was very intelligent. so i liked those things. i felt safe with him. >> reporter: and he felt safe with her. was he right? ogists trust most. introducing positively nourishing moisturizers. with active naturals, they're clinically tested... to lock in moisture for 24 hours. now, skin can be soft and beautifully fragrant. that's the best of both worlds. new positively nourishing. and experience our enticing body washes, too. only from aveeno. that's the beauty of nature and science. a lot of things can really irritate your face... shaving shouldn't be one of them.
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>> reporter: the thrill had gone for dr. darrell sitorius. after 30 years, he was walking away from his marriage. and there was certainly nothing his daughter deborah could do but watch her family fall apart. >> once he got out of the house, i think he saw what he had. i mean, you know, beautiful wife and four kids and, you know, a nice house. i mean, we had everything. >> reporter: but for darrell, everything wasn't enough anymore. the marriage had fizzled. he wanted to start a new chapter in his life. but once he did, he wondered if the price he paid for it had been too high. >> i think he wondered why he left sometimes. he was -- he always said he was trying to be happy. but i think when he left, he told me that his happiest times
were at home with us and that he wished he had spent more time there. >> reporter: darrell wanted a do-over. but it was too late for a reset. >> we were sitting in the kitchen. and we were talking. and he started crying. >> reporter: so he really seemed kind of adrift and lost a little bit? >> yeah, he did. >> reporter: darrell had become lonely guy surgeon. he was in his early 50s, a little bit overweight, and truly clueless about how to start dating after 30 years off the chase. >> i didn't want him to be with anyone but my mom. and i know that there wasn't any woman that he could find that would be better than my mom. but i was an adult at the time. and he obviously needed me more than i needed to say, you know, hey, dad, i don't want to hear this. so i listened. but it was strange. >> reporter: darrell had quickly rebounded into a relationship with a younger woman. but it soon fell apart. more distraught than ever, he signed up for great expectations, a dating service, determined to find a more appropriate match. >> he considered that, you know, because they talk about screening. he was also concerned with finding an intelligent and, you know, well-bred person.
>> reporter: why do you think he went to the dating service? i can't quite figure that out. >> i don't know. honestly, it's an embarrassment. >> reporter: but darrell wasn't going to let pride stand in his way of finding just the right person to spend his life with. he showed deborah the picture of the woman great expectations had selected to be his date. her name was dante. >> her picture wasn't very nice. she kind of had a mean look on her face. but i thought maybe it was a bad picture. i was, like, well, you know, okay, dad. whatever. >> reporter: but darrell, on the other hand, loved the way she looked. he couldn't wait to tell deborah about the candlelit dinner they had together at the bankers club. >> he said she likes art. i said, oh, is she an artist? and he said, no, she just likes art. i said, well, what does she do? he said, well, she doesn't really do anything. she's just company. i said, does she have a job? and he said no, not really. she likes to decorate. i said, well, she's a designer. and he said no.
she doesn't do anything. just company. i was, like, okay. >> reporter: if deborah had her doubts, darrell had none. he wanted his daughter to meet this new woman in his life. he arranged to take them all to a restaurant. >> she talked about she had graduated from ucla and that, you know, she could read people like a book. and she just was talking about herself so much. and i was just kind of, like, brother. >> reporter: who is this woman? >> yeah. >> reporter: was she flirtatious with your father? >> not at all. she was very cold and prim and proper and drinking her wine. >> putting up errors? >> there was something phony about her. as a woman, you pick up on those things sometimes, i think. and i caught that, you know, her laugh was really fake. i just didn't like her. >> reporter: but dinner wasn't
over. dad had a surprise. >> i noticed she had a ring on her finger. and then he told me they were getting married the next week. and i had to leave the table. >> reporter: that was a shock, huh? >> oh, yeah. >> reporter: he and dante had been dating for only four months, but they were getting married the very next week. deborah thought her father, wallowing in the midst of a massive midlife crisis, was making a huge mistake. >> he thought that he was going to be alone forever. he was very vulnerable. and she just took advantage of that like a pro. >> reporter: just days after their honeymoon in hilton head, they moved into a big new house darrell had bought for his bride. but deborah saw things getting strange from the moment the moving truck showed up. dante was rifling through all of her father's stuff. >> she was getting into all of his things. and i didn't like that. she broke into a trunk of his, like with a screw driver. >> reporter: she also had no plans to share a bedroom with her new husband. >> her room was upstairs, which i didn't mind that they didn't
sleep in the same room. that was fine with me. but she had all these locks on her door. >> reporter: not your typical newlywed behavior, to be sure. but it was what started to happen next that truly unnerved deborah. >> she wouldn't let him answer the phone. it would always be her. >> reporter: you couldn't have a private conversation with your father? >> she wouldn't give him our phone calls or messages. then she'd listen to our phone calls which i didn't find out till later when i actually heard her exhale during a conversation. and later in his office when i knew i was alone with him, i said, dad, she was listening in on our phone calls. that's weird. and he said, she always does that. >> reporter: by december, nine months into the marriage, deborah couldn't take it anymore. as the oldest child, she took on the job of confronting her dad's new bride. >> i had called her and confronted her about not letting us have any time alone with my dad and listening in on my phone calls. >> reporter: what was that
confrontation like? >> i pretty much just yelled at her. and she taped it. >> reporter: she taped it? >> yeah. she taped it and was going to file harassment charges on me. >> reporter: dante, just as she had with her husbands before, was threatening to put her stepdaughter in jail. >> that's how she was. she was going to file harassment charges. my dad said you need to write her an apology. and i said i'm not going to apologize to her for listening in on my phone calls. and she said, well, she's going to file harassment charges against you. >> reporter: darrell seemed to be completely under dante's spell. and when deborah announced her own engagement at christmastime, things went from bad to worse. >> it really just all snowballed really quickly. >> reporter: dante made it crystal clear that darrell was to spend no money, nohow on a big wedding. >> i think my dad knew at that point that this was going to be a lot of trouble.
and i said, well, dad, don't worry about it. i can elope. i don't care. >> reporter: but dante was not appeased. and deborah wasn't the only one picking up toxic vapors around her. deborah says her father's secretary confided in her that she felt terrorized by dante. >> she said dante's a very scary person, and i don't want to get wrapped up in it because i know that she has ruined people's careers. >> reporter: when soon after that deborah saw visible signs of physical violence on her father, she knew that the dante issue had escalated way past midlife soap opera and was now in a new and scary place. >> he had scratches on his face. and i said, dad, what's wrong with your face? and he said, she attacked me for trying to talk with you. and that was when he took me into the back room and he said, she has a gun and she's threatened to kill me. she said she's killed other people before. that was when everything all of a sudden, within a week's time, i realized that this was really scary. >> reporter: things were spinning wildly out of control. >> everything just started to get crazy. i mean, really crazy. coming up -- two people, one gun. this wasn't going to end well. >> he said, i'll see you in court.
>> reporter: life under the roof of the sitorius home was coming unglued, and everyone seemed to know it. the big, beefy surgeon, the doctor with a reputation of terrifying nurses with so much as a glowor, was telling anyone that would listen was shaking in his boots of the pint-sized woman he married. even his daughter, deborah, said at first she didn't entirely get it. >> i was, like, how could she be scary? this little, blonde person, you know?
she's so -- you know, and she was even soft-spoken, you know? how could she be scary? >> reporter: dante, of course, was telling it the other way around. it was she who was scared of her husband's dark moods, his worsening depression. she thought she had married a full-on monster who never got past the break-up of his first marriage. >> he told me how, when he was getting divorced before, he had tried to -- he sat there with a gun in his hand and debated back and forth whether to pull the trigger. he told me that one day. then he started telling me about another time. and i said, i'm really not comfortable with this. >> reporter: and from dante's perspective, things were only made worse by her husband's children. so happy to cast her as the wicked stepmother. deborah, in particular, got under her skin. >> darrell said it bothered her that someone was, you know, going to take her mother's place. that it really bothered her.
so i didn't exactly trust her. >> reporter: darrell, all the while, dante said, had gone from a moderate drinker to a heavy one. >> he was drinking a lot more. he'd cry. one time i came downstairs, and he was crying. >> reporter: and dante was certain someone feeding her weepy husband's misery was none other than her mother. sooner or later, she says, her mother got to her man and told them venomous stories about her supposed treachery. now it had happened again. >> she called every husband. she tried to ruin every single relationship bad-mouthing me. and i think she bad-mouthed me to the point where she had darrell. >> reporter: whatever darrell's personal demons may have been, it was clear dante and the doctor was a marriage not working out. and still, even with gloom hanging from the ceiling of that house, the crying, the drinking, the two of them, according to dante, were not talking about throwing in the towel. >> divorce never came up. he said he still cared about me. >> reporter: but the war of words and sometimes the war of silence, she says, was becoming physical. >> he hit me several times. one time he tried to choke me.
he put his hands around my neck. >> reporter: did you ever hit him? >> only one time. he had me by the tops of my arms, and he was banging me into the countertop and hit my head on the cupboard door. and i told him, let go. you're hurting me. and i couldn't get away. he was, like, 300 pounds and 6'4". he was huge. so i reached up and i scratched him. and i put two scratch marks on this side and one scratch on that side. that was the only time i ever did anything physical to him, but he let go of me. >> reporter: and another time when it was also starting to turn really ugly, she says, darrell knocked down her little dog. that lit up all of dante's bones. >> i threw a pillow on the chair. he said don't start throwing things. i threw a pillow. this is throwing things. i swiped off the coffee table and broke his glass of scotch. and he jumped up and he had the glass to my face. >> reporter: in a threatening manner. >> he pulled m